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February 13, 2008

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J

Interesting. I've never read NME or MelodyMaker. That didn't stop me getting the literary references in the work of bands like the Sisters of Mercy, or Divine Comedy. But, that's because I read the books first, and heard the songs later.

"The songs needed the journalists in an analogous way to how abstract art needs critics"

Well, I'm not sure you need an art critic to help you appreciate Rothko. The accusation can be made for conceptual art perhaps, but that's a whole other story. Good abstract art doesn't require a guidebook, it requires a different approach to looking at things. It is NOT the case that the only thing separating Rothko and my 6 year old is that art critics have written books on Rothko. His stuff is actually better.

Likewise, there's more between the Smiths and Tranvision Vamp than the fact some goatee'd bloke in 1987 wrote some intellectual stuff about the former but not the latter.

It's true that having 'cool' people writing about references to Keats in publications like NME that the KidZ read, makes it easier for bands with intellectual lyrics to sell records. But, that's not because you need the writers to understand the music, just because people are sheep like and will tend to copy other people and trends that appear fashionable.

Will Davies

You said 'guidebook', I said 'critics'. I should have said 'criticism' probably. This is very different from a guidebook. Art criticism is an active, perhaps even constitutive component of modernism - I don't think that's a controversial statement. It is a very different thing from talking about who may or may not be an expert about art. I was not saying 'it's all the same until an expert tells you what's good', but that modern aesthetics involves some crucial uncertainty about what constitutes beauty, and (perhaps post-Duchamp) some fundamental uncertainty about what even constitutes art. Criticism is not about 'knowing more' than someone else but about engaging publicly with this uncertainty.

I think it's worth appreciating that something analogous went on with indie music, in which it requires some intellectual effort to distinguish what matters from what doesn't matter. This doesn't mean there isn't also aesthetic judgement at work, but that the aesthetic judgement isn't afraid to defend itself intellectually. If you would prefer to render the intellectualism irrelevant ('some goatee'd bloke'), then you are left with 'just' taste, giving people the option to say 'that's fine that you like the Smiths, but I simply prefer the sound of Transvision Vamp'. And from there, it's just a short step to accepting that James Blunt is quite easy on the ear...

MarkD

Will,

I think that, as someone that lived through the early 90s with a Melody Maker clutched in one hand, I have to warmly agree. Further I think you've captured brilliantly the dynamics of indie music and MM at the time. And the sad state we have now is that the result of accompanying music with visuals is worse that soup; its aggregate of the lowest common demoninator.

Will Davies

Thanks Mark. I was feeling a little anxious that I was washing my dirty 1990s linen in public, but glad to hear I'm not alone.

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